Colorado goes cellulosic!

Local ethanol plant makes good!

Local Ethanol Plant Makes Good

Via Paul, and article in Biofuels Digest highlighting how our local corn ethanol plant (Front Range Energy in Windsor, CO) will soon be transitioning to cellulose-derived sugars for a fraction of its feedstock:

This is a very exciting development!  The Windsor plant had to shut down for several weeks last year during peak corn prices caused by the drought, and the partial transition to feedstocks derived from low-value or waste materials might significantly decrease the risks associated with corn price volatility and create a new revenue stream from cellulosic fuel RINs.   And even though the initial deal is only for about 10% of FRE’s 40 million gallon per year production to come from cellulosic feedstocks, that’s still a non-trivial amount in the context of the capacities of the first wave of dedicated cellulosic ethanol plants that recently have or soon will come online.

I’m very curious what the overall GHG footprint of the ethanol produced at this facility will be.  The Windsor plant apparently already had a very favorable energy balance, using natural gas as a process fuel (like most but not all modern ethanol plants), and exporting their distillers grains with solubles (DGS) wet, greatly reducing overall energy use at the facility.  Additionally, I’ve heard that the plant sells some of the pure CO2 stream resulting from the fermentation process as an ozone-safe refrigerant, and this temporary sequestration of atmospheric-derived CO2 likely improves their footprint even further.

Incidentally, it seems that the congressman representing Windsor does not support the federal cellulosic biofuel subsidies underlying the renewable fuel standard that the plant is counting on for this transition.  Personally, I think it’s great to have such a positive example of a progressive biofuels industry right in our own back yard, and I hope that the rest of our congressional delegation will support the spirit of the cellulosic fuel mandate through the recent judicial challenges to the particulars of that legislation.

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One Response to Colorado goes cellulosic!

  1. John says:

    Interesting aside here-
    Dr. Greg Graff gave the AGRI 602 lecture today, and asked the interesting question of why we have a total of three corn ethanol plants in the eastern plains of Colorado (with a total capacity on the order of 150 million gallons per year) even though that area has A) relatively low corn production compared to neighboring states (see for yourself here: http://nassgeodata.gmu.edu/CropScape/), and B) already has a huge demand for corn from the large number of cattle feedlots there?
    His answer: wet distillers grains with solubles, the coproduct we discuss above, is much heavier more expensive to ship in corn, and thus it makes sense to locate you biorefinery closer to the site of DGS demand (the cattle feedlots) than the site of corn production. The nice lifecycle greenhouse gas performance of the wet DGS operation of the Front Range Ethanol plant is almost certainly the consequence of the economic decision to locate the facility close to local feedlots and forgo the expense of drying the DGS for longer-term shipping and storage.

    Just for reference, at a conversion rate of 2.8 gal EtOH/bu corn, that 150 Mgal of ethanol requires ~54 million bushels (1.4 million tons) of corn, right around 40% of total corn production in Colorado in 2012 (http://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/results/63AA92AE-DE59-3E9B-AEC5-144491AD93BF)

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